Christmas during deployment can be a very lonely time… for both the person away and the person (or people) at home. And let’s be real: Our culture doesn’t make it any easier. When John was in Afghanistan, I can’t tell you how many times I cried to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “Blue Christmas.” The season didn’t seem very merry… and I sure as heck wasn’t, either. I set about trying to give John the nicest Christmas I could from 7,000 miles away. Decorated care packages, boxes and boxes of cookies and treats for him to share, presents for Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day. At the time, I really needed the distraction but… geez. I spent a lot of money–and some of those things, John didn’t even bring home or use much at all. Holiday spending is always tricky, but it can be a lot more difficult when you’re emotionally drained and missing your partner. Here are a few ways to navigate that tough spot, so you don’t have a holiday budget hangover in the new year:
Ignore the extra cash
Deployments and separations often come with extra money, depending on the circumstances. It’s easy to count that money as extra, fun money. And often, because it is “extra,” it’s easy to “spend” that money a few times. Instead of splurging with it for the holidays, keep your hands off it. Let it stay in your bank account by making a budget and then sticking to it.
Make a budget
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by creating a budget, but don’t be intimidated! A budget can be as involved (or not) as you want. Every year, John and I set a limit on spending for things like gifts, trips, and cards. While we do give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room, we work to stay to that spending limit. While it may be hard during shopping, it makes getting bills or seeing the bank account in January waaaaay easier.
Factor in “hidden costs”
You can stay on budget… until you can’t. Hidden costs– like shipping, sales tax, and stocking stuffers— can make a serious dent in your cash reserves. If you’re sending care packages for Christmas or New Years, make sure that you factor shipping costs into your budget. While Priority mail is still (usually) the cheapest way to go–and you do get a discount when shipping APO/FPO– it still costs money. And, depending on how many packages you send, it can add up quickly. If you have large packages to send, consider keeping them for your family’s Christmas when your spouse comes home or is back for R&R.
Avoid therapy shopping
When there’s a hole in your life, it’s easy to want to fill it with stuff. Especially stuff that looks fun or that your kids (or spouse) has been eyeing. And therapy shopping–or guilt shopping–can crush the savings that you’ve been carefully accruing over deployment. When you go shopping (physically or online), make sure that you have a list of people who need gifts and what those gifts are–or your budget for each person. Refer to it; hang on to it; and try to stick to it. You’ll thank yourself in January.
Be on the same page
If you and your spouse share a bank account, make sure that you both know how and when you’re going to spend money on holiday things. Since you’re not in the same house to talk about–or at least see the packages coming in the mail or your spouse stepping out to shop– you might be unknowingly spending way more than you think you are. And if you don’t know when those bills are going to drop, you might find yourself in a pickle really quickly and without meaning to.
What kind of a money manager are you? When it comes to deployment? When it comes to the holidays? There are plenty of tools out there to help you navigate budgeting, spending, saving, and managing your money. Navy Federal Credit Union is a perfect place to start. Why choose Navy Federal? Not only are they a fantastic resource for advice and knowledge, they also know exactly what you’re going through because they serve military families all day, every day.
When John was deployed, I did a lot–and I mean, a lot– of guilt shopping. I wanted him to have a really nice Christmas in Afghanistan so it would take the sting away from being far from home. The truth is, nothing–no matter how awesome the care package or nice the present–is going to make your spouse forget that they’re deployed and away from you. It’s just not.